Derry plant involved in arms work

  • 5 October 2007
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Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act suggest that the US arms company Raytheon has lied about what it is producing at its plant in Derry and that local Nationalist politicians knew this. By Eamon McCann


The SDLP and Sinn Féin have repeatedly said, over a period of eight years, that they had welcomed Raytheon on the basis of firm pledges from the company that no arms-related work would be carried out in the Derry plant. However, the Freedom of Information act documents obtained by the Belfast Telegraph confirm that the Derry plant has been working on a major high-tech military project in association with the Ministry of Defence's Land Warfare Centre in Warminster, Wiltshire.

This follows previous revelations of the involvement of the Derry plant in arms production. Raytheon's facility at the Springtown industrial estate in Derry is computer-linked to the Integration and Test laboratory at Warminster, which is coordinating development of the Joint Effects Tactical Targeting System (JETTS). According to company documents, “The [Warminster] facility has a full-time staff, including officers from all three Services and a team from RSL (Raytheon Systems Limited) who support the integration, test, evaluation and acceptance process.” The RSL team at Warminster includes employees from Derry, working alongside officers from the British Army, the Royal Navy and the RAF.

In a co-authored article in the 2006 edition of the internal Raytheon magazine Technology Today, Columb Duffy, Raytheon's principle software engineer in Derry, declares that: “Once in operation with British forces, JETTS will be able to make a significant contribution to what will be a long-term but momentous evolution in military affairs. We are now at the forefront of the transition from 20th century to 21st century doctrine and operations.”

Raytheon says that JETTS has been “designed to give commanders swifter and more efficient control over their equipment in the battlefield... by enhancing the combat effects of tempo, simultaneity, surprise, tactical agility, lethality and survivability.”

The fact that the Derry plant has been working on JETTS was confirmed by Northern Ireland Office Minister Angela Smith in the House of Commons in February last year. The Telegraph documents reveal that Derry's involvement has been much deeper and more central to the project than previously suggested.

Senior officials and members of Derry City Council have known of the local Raytheon plant's military involvement for some time. Evidence in the form of affidavits from former Raytheon workers and internal company documents were presented to council meetings in January and April 2004. At that time, both Nationalist parties undertook in clear terms to reconsider their positions if the information presented could be shown to be reliable.
Neither party has since challenged the reliability of the information nor moved to reconsider their positions.

The documents now obtained by the Telegraph show Raytheon was working on such projects long before 2004. The documents include a letter from the Industrial Development Board (IDB) to John Hume, then MP for Foyle, dated 9 February 1999, in which an IDB official reports on a visit to Derry the previous week by Raytheon chairman Denis Picard. “Raytheon is still very focused on the MoD programmes,” says the letter. “The bottom line: this could mean no project in Northern Ireland if Raytheon's competitors are awarded the MoD business.”

Thus, Mr Hume, and, presumably, his SDLP colleagues in Derry knew from the outset that the establishment of the Derry plant was contingent on the company winning business from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and that the company was being dishonest in pretending, as it did, that only civilian items would be manufactured in Derry.

The main MoD project which the company came to Derry to work on was the Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR) system. The announcement of the Derry plant came in August 1999, six months after the letter to Mr Hume. The announcement that the company had won the ASTOR contract came in December 1999.

ASTOR was described by the company at that time as “an airborne battlefield or ground surveillance radar system for operation with the Royal Air Force and the British Army.”

A 1999 statement from Direct Rule minister Adam Ingram, little noticed at the time, suggests that senior SDLP figures, while pledging that they would not welcome the establishment of an arms facility in Derry, had not only been lobbying for a Raytheon plant in the knowledge that it would manufacture arms, but had also lobbied for arms contracts to be awarded to the company in order to encourage it to locate in Derry. Ingram paid tribute to the SDLP for influencing the MoD's decision on the ASTOR contract: “Extensive lobbying by the Secretary of State and myself together with local politicians including David Trimble, Seamus Mallon and John Hume has influenced a decision which will bring further opportunities to people here. The contract will lead to Raytheon accelerating the establishment of its software development centre in Londonderry.”

Sinn Féin, too, has known for years that Raytheon was making military equipment in Derry for the MoD. The Derry Anti-War Coalition (DAWC) has repeatedly drawn attention to documents from Raytheon and Invest Northern Ireland showing that the company understood that the Sinn Féin leadership in the city was well-disposed towards its presence - despite the public position of the party that they'd want Raytheon declared unwelcome if it was found to be producing military equipment.

The company quoted a Sinn Féin mayor of the city as having had a “positive” attitude to its activities at Springtown.

Although the document containing this quote – the minute of a 2004 meeting between Raytheon managers and officials of the IDB's successor, Invest Northern Ireland – has been in the public arena in Derry for some time, Sinn Féin has refused either to repudiate or to endorse it.

The chairperson of the DAWC, Eileen Webster, says: “In some ways, the Unionist parties have had a more honourable position. Gregory Campbell says that his party has no problem with Raytheon producing arms systems for British and US forces and that revelations of arms production at the Derry plant don't disturb him in the slightest. We fundamentally disagree with that position. But at least the DUP is saying the same thing in public as in private.

“The SDLP and Sinn Féin should end the shiftiness and evasion which has characterised their attitude to Raytheon. They should either join the DUP in saying openly that they are content with Derry's involvement in the arms trade and the supply of weapons to British, US, Israeli and other armies, or act on pledges repeatedly given and declare Raytheon unwelcome in the city.”